I think my first encounter where I felt Cultural Appropriation was in the mid 2000’s from Gwen Steffani.
Back then she had a group of 4 Japanese women as her backup dances and they were known as the Harajuku Girls. Harajuku is an area of Tokyo Japan that was known for creative wild subculture youth street styles. Gwen Steffani took this concept and had her backup dancers dress up in Harajuku street fashion. But it wasn’t just for the backup dancing, but also they were paid to be her entourage. They followed her everywhere, to all of her public appearances. They were even prohibited from speaking English when in public. Only Japanese.
Gwen Steffani said that it wasn’t cultural appropriation but celebrating and appreciating the Harajuku style.
Many people do not know what cultural appropriation is vs cultural appreciation, and often times it is difficult to tell the difference.
In this case, if it is cultural appreciation, then it should be about the culture and the people who represent the culture. It should be Gwen Steffani using her fame and influence to uplift the Harajuku culture, which she is clearly not doing.
What she is doing is taking the Harajuku street style and using it as a fashion accessory. And even worse, she is taking these Japanese women dressed in Harajuku street style and using them as a fashion accessory. At no point does she center the women, nor the Harajuku culture, it is all about her.
And while this was 15+ years ago, am I unfairly using social rules of today on her? But then again, this was only 15 years ago. And if it is cultural appropriation today, it was still cultural appropriation then too. And this isn’t me trying to create outrage from the past. It deeply bothered me back then too. As did all of the fetishization of Asian cultures that were going on then. The only difference is that now, I have the knowledge and experience to understand why and the language to express it.
Image Source Todd https://www.flickr.com/photos/royalt/17729238/